ATHENS – It’s not about one player not being here. It’s not about playing a freshman quarterback or having a certain soft spot on the depth chart or the big, bad NCAA being out to get Georgia.
When a program sinks to lows not seen since the Ray Goff administration, it’s not an aberration.
The head coach (Mark Richt) is 2-6 in his past eight SEC games. The vaunted offensive line coach (Stacy Searels) frankly hasn’t done bupkis since his arrival, recent evidence being that his supposed top group of linemen just allowed six sacks to a projected average defense. The new defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham, isn’t looking much better than the old one (Willie Martinez).
When all of those things happen, we’ve transitioned from downward trend to potential new identity. Georgia is an average team right now.
The Bulldogs lost to Arkansas 31-24 on Saturday for the first time since 1993, dropping to 0-2 in the SEC for the first time since opening 0-4 in that same season under Goff. Richt has built far more credits than Goff ever dreamed off, including two SEC titles. But there’s as much uncertainty about direction right now as ever before.
This latest loss was not devoid of positives. The Dogs displayed the kind of resolve that seemingly was missing last season, scoring two touchdowns in a four-minute span in the fourth quarter to tie the score at 24-24. But one late-game rally can’t whitewash the flaws.
The question now is: What direction do they go? Next week’s game at Mississippi State hardly is a gimme. Then comes a non-conference game at Colorado, before the Dogs return to Sanford Stadium for an emotional meeting against Tennessee and the new coach with a familiar last name (Derek Dooley).
Is there any game one can mark down as an automatic win right now?
Richt maintained Georgia continues to “get better,” but he conceded: “When we reach that peak [later this season], hopefully the games will still be meaningful. Right now it’s hard to say if they will be.”
It’s easier to project success when the problems are limited. Not the case here. Consider:
♦ Last week at South Carolina, the defense got ripped by the ground game. Saturday it got ripped by the pass. Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked just once (with three minutes left). Almost as disturbing: Grantham put it all on the players, seemingly accepting no blame. Quote: “Guys have to do what the calls tell them to do. If you don’t do that, that’s why there’s inconsistency. You may play for 60 plays and 54 of them you look good, but then all of a sudden you give up six explosive plays and those can override a lot of good things.”
Coach: 54 out of 60 doesn’t get it done, especially when there’s not a defender within a zip code of a receiver on touchdown plays of 57, 22 and 40 yards (the decider with 15 seconds left).
♦ The offensive line was supposed to be the strength of the team. The Dogs ran the ball better this week, but quarterback Aaron Murray was sacked six times. Some of that was Murray holding onto the ball too long, but most of it was poor protection. Searels has not lived up to his billing since leaving LSU in 2007.
Murray was knocked dizzy at times and afterward wore a bandage under his chin to cover cuts (he said from his chinstrap).
Bobo looked like a wounded soldier himself, as if he had been punched in the nose. A gash ran down the top of it, but he said he didn’t know how it got there.
“I just saw blood trickling down [in the first quarter],” he said.
Maybe it will show up on film. All of the wounds will. They’re significant, they’re widespread and there is no indication that they’re going away any time soon.